LOS ANGELES - It's time to go back to Mordor. On October 10, gamers will once again become a thorn in the Dark Lord Sauron's side in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (available for PlayStation, PC and Xbox).
Talion the Ranger and the Elf Lord Celebrimbor continue their war of vengeance by bringing the fight to the heart of Mordor with new powers, abilities and a few good Uruks. I had the opportunity to play through a demo at E3 and am happy to report that developer Monolith Studios and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment cleaned up all the flaws from the first title to create a game that has a lot more depth than its predecessor.
A Sieging We Will Go
Instead of sneaking into Uruk fortresses to takE out the local overlord, you'll be leading a full-on siege with your own Uruk army. Just like in Shadow of Mordor, your army will be made from Uraks that you've spiritually dominated along the way. But while Shadow of Mordor focused more on hacking, slashing with a touch of stealth, this new fortress siege mechanic requires a bit more tactical finesse.
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Instead of charging head first into a potentially bad situation, the sequence began by showing me the available information about my soon-to-be-castle and the Uruks currently inhabiting it. I surveyed their strengths and weaknesses, particularly the warchief, who was susceptible to poison and ranged attacks. However, he would become enraged if I attempted a vault attack, so I started to make preparations.
The first step was enhancing my skill set, which I did by using available skill points to unlock relevant skills like Contagion, which spread the poison effect to a crowd of Uruks by adding a poison effect to my arrows. Next, I chose which of my loyal Uruks would follow me into battle acting as my grotesque muscle.
Now that I had properly prepared, it was time to get this show on the road. But only after a thrilling cutscene where the overload and I rallied our respective troops. My first wave of Uruk faithful began climbing up the walls to get rid of the archers sending a rain of arrows our way. Once they made their way inside and opened the doors, the assault was fully underway.
While the object of the exercise is to dethrone the overlord, you'll have to win several victory points first. And to do that, you'll need to dispatch the overlord's war chiefs. Tougher than your average Uruk, warchiefs are typically heavily armored, insanely strong and extremely pissed at you.
The smart money is trying to dominate at least one of this beastly enemies before the siege when they're away from their respective fortresses. Alas, since this was a demo, I didn't have the opportunity to exercise that option, which meant I had to attempt to take down three of these giant masses of muscle and ire.
I'm sad to say that despite what I thought were solid preparations on my part, I quickly bit the dust when I faced my first chief. These guys are insanely strong, and it only took about three swings of the first chief's massive sword to put me into my grave. So, yeah, if you can, try to turn a few of the chiefs to your side beforehand. Your life will be that much easier.
A New Coat of Paint
I also had the opportunity to explore the world of Mordor at large. Standard moves like sprinting and vaulting are faster and smoother than in the previous title. The combat system still follows that Arkham Knight formula using X and B to attack, Y to counterattack and a to vault. In practice, the combat is just as smooth and depending on what skills you've unlocked, you can enhance your attacks.
Speaking of enhancements, Shadow of War has expanded the skill tree and customization options. Using jewels found on the carcasses of fallen Uruks, you can augment your sword, Celebrimor's hammer, your arrow and even the ring of power. I didn't get to tweak around with the ring, but learned that you can change the inscription on the ring, which gives it different effects. It's a new system that's ripe for customization and I can't wait to create my own poison and ice-flinging death dealer when the game launches.
I thoroughly enjoyed Shadow of Mordor and it looks like I'm going to have even more fun with Shadow of War. The game seems to have addressed most of the flaws of the first game (we'll see how the handle the final boss fight) and added a lot of new elements that I can't wait to try. Also, we're going to get snarky Uruks, and who doesn't want that?